Starring: Eriko Hatsune, Keiko Takahashi, Fhi Fan, Osugi Ren, Shin Eun-kyung
Adapted from the manga by Japanese master of horror Junji Ito, Uzumaki examines the prolific and mysterious appearance of Uzumaki (spirals) in the small town of Kurouzu. As the town and the people growing increasingly unhinged and horrifically paranoid, a lone girl Kirie (Eriko Hatsune) bears witness to the encroaching madness and its spreading influence.
While I am a massive fan of Japanese cinema and animation, manga is more of a blind spot in my related interests. Being much more selective in this medium, I tend to gravitate towards samurai action like that of Koike and, as related to this review, horror manga. Few writers are as highly regarded in this genre as Junji Ito and indeed, he is perhaps one of the most prolific and uniquely macabre Japanese voices. As no stranger to the Uzumaki manga, I looked forward to this feature adaptation when I heard about it a few years after its release.
It should be noted that the film adapts a number of recognizable plot threads from the source material, in varying degrees of accuracy, but has a vastly different finale, ostensibly because the manga had not completed its run by the time of the films’ production. While this may affect a film’s reputation years down the line, my initial viewing didn’t have the benefit of a clear finale and the chosen ending does feel tonally accurate to the rest of the film and where it diverges from the source.
Higuchinsky crafts a sumptuously visual piece that is full of atmosphere and effective visual effects, both practical and computer-generated. Visually, it truly feels like an Ito work come to life. Unfortunately, this extends to some of the more worrying elements of Ito’s work as well. Dialogue is at times hokey and lacking punch; the biggest offenders in this picture tend to be the males with Fhi Fan as Shuichi standing out. As the male lead, he drags every scene he’s in and the scenes featuring his family are among the worst acted in the film. Eriko Hatsune fares just a bit better but her naive and doe-like performance is more than a little grating by the film’s final act. She only barely qualifies as a lead, based on her presence in the film compared to other actors. The only brief relief is Shin Eun-kyung who’s sarcastic and pragmatic take is a breath of fresh air against her co-stars.
The film itself tends to lack any real sort of solid performance and the film devolves to a “spot the spiral” sort of game that can keep you engaged for the terrific visuals but will leave a bad taste in your mouth for time lost in the viewing. In all, the film tends to condense too much material in its short running time and leaves too much to interpretation or will require a read of the original source. As a stand-alone film, it fails. Poor performances and lack of focus burden the picture in ways too many that even the great visuals and cool kills will be slight to make up for it. While viewed as an iconic Japanese horror film in the years since its release, it ultimately relies too heavily on its visuals and fails to correctly encapsulate what made the manga interesting and a modern classic.